Interview with Chef Jim Botsacos

Jim Botsacos, the owner and head chef at New York's famous Greek restaurant, Molyvos, shares some advice on cooking Greek food and running a successful business.

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1.    Which childhood memory do you consider the foundation of your own personal initiation into the creative world of food preparation?  

I have many childhood memories; it was probably our Sunday feasts that were composed of many dishes. Some Greek and some Italian-American, orchestrated by my father, mother, my grandmother and myself.


2.    Is the 'Mussels in white wine and garlic' you mention in the introduction to your book New Greek Cuisine, the same recipe that created your first loyal customers in the local Italian Restaurant where you began your career? Please give us that recipe. Have you elaborated on it since or is the same recipe?


It’s not the same recipe but similar. The one that I mentioned about the customers leaned more toward the Italian side. It was simple steamed mussels with garlic, white wine and parsley, finished with a touch of extra virgin olive oil and a touch of butter served with crusty country bread. 

3.    What menu would you compose for a special family reunion? Please give us some of the recipes and could you also suggest the wine to go with it?


When we have family gatherings, the meal always starts with a mixture of meze and antipasti, such as taramasalata, melitzanosalata, tzatziki, marinated olives, feta, mozzarella, roasted peppers, grilled or marinated vegetables and salumi. 


Depending on the time of year it would usually be tomato-based pasta or something fresh from the garden such as zucchini with giant white beans, finished with basil, oregano and a rich Greek olive oil. Then for the main course, usually we would do a roasted leg of lamb or Dad’s famous grilled chicken. For dessert, usually Greek yogurt with some spoon sweets, accompanied by fresh seasonal fruit.


As for wines we would start with a Moschofilero made by Domaine Tselepos, Mantinia or we would have a crisp white such as Assyrtiko and Oia, Sigals, Santorini, 2006 vintage. If we were going to move into a red wine I prefer to drink a deep red such as Agiorgitiko, Gaia Estate, Nemea 2003 vintage.

4.    Do you enjoy Greek wine? How extensive is the Greek wine List in Molyvos?

Yes I enjoy drinking Greek Wines; I usually prefer whites that are crisp and reds that are a little deep with a fruity and spicy finish. I also enjoy drinking both Italian and California Wines.  Regarding the wine list at Molyvos, it is very extensive. We have over 350 bottles of wine,  80% of which is Greek.  It displays a cross-section of Greek wines from all the major producers, some of which are exclusive to Molyvos. We should also mention that we have an international beer list with over 15 varieties of beer, and an ouzo list with 18 ouzos from various islands and producers.

5.    Have you contemplated the idea of opening a restaurant in Greece?


The Livanos’ and I have always spoken about opening a restaurant in Greece; we were very close at one point, but things just didn’t pan out.

6.    How difficult is it to be an innovative chef and also run a high-demand, top quality restaurant business in New York? 


Some days can be a little challenging, but having the proper staff is a key component to having a successful business and creative freedom. I believe the mark of a good chef is not only how good the food is and how profitable a business is, but how well the restaurant can be run if you’re not there.

7.    Your book includes photographs of the people working at Molyvos and you mention them in the acknowledgments of your book. How is this related to your philosophy on running a successful kitchen?


My idea was to create a book and show a little peak behind the scenes of how a restaurant may operate, because I think it is a bit of a mystery, as well as developing recipes that are simple and straightforward for the everyday cook. Including some recipes that are more intricate would be conducive to a professional kitchen.  


By incorporating everyone into the book, I feel it gives all who are involved in the restaurant a sense of ownership towards what we are trying to accomplish and they take pride in their work and in the restaurant. 

8.    What Greek foods do your children enjoy? 


Both of my children eat just about anything. They can never get enough Greek olives. Probably their two favourites are spanakopita (spinach pie) and lamb chops. Sofia has been tearing them off the bones since she was two years old and Dimitri, who is now 2 years old, loves them, he can’t get enough.

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